Turn the page

What is the sound of a page turning? To artist Robert Kelly, it is a veritable symphony of metaphors and synaesthesia that he shares through his latest art installation at the University of Winnipeg’s 1C03 gallery. Entitled Minutia, this exhibition is based on the phrase “the first time I heard the sound of a page turning” and examines what the artist calls “meaningful detail,” by breaking down the phrase into its individual words and exploring each word in isolation.
Each word, even the function words like “the” and “a,” are lovingly and tellingly featured in their own leather-bound books (complete with gold-leaf embossing!). Within these books lies a new way of thinking about words — and by extension, bigger themes.

Each book begins with a foreword written by a friend of the artist, describing what the word in question means to them, how they see it through the eyes of the artist, or what contemporary knowledge teaches us about the associations of the word. Next is a prologue by Kelly himself explaining the motivation for the whole project, and the pages that follow are a microcosmic study of each word and the power it holds.

At first glance, 50 pages of “the” can be a little overwhelming and off-putting; most people expect a book to have more meaningful content, to be telling them something they don’t already know. But that’s the beauty of this deconstruction: these books fulfill both those expectations, if you allow yourself to read between the lines.

A good example is “The Book of Of.” For each chapter, Kelly used a chapter from a book that interested him, with a twist: instead of printing the chapter as is, he inserted only the sentences that contained “of” in them, and only the parts of those sentences directly concerning the relation created by “of.” These sentence fragments are then interposed at various places on the page, tangentially, allowing large white spaces in between so that the reader becomes able to form their own connections between the phrases. In effect, the spaces become the “of” of the book, created by and living through the conscious efforts of the reader to extract and construct meaning. Who knew that “of” could be so powerful?

Each book is reverently placed on a lectern, the 11 books in a circle to illustrate the unending connections and relations between each word, and visitors are encouraged to write on the walls behind the lecterns, giving their own take on the nuances encapsulated or inspired by the words. Examining words like “sound” and “heard” breaks into areas of onomatopoeia and tense. We learn that “a” is unrequited love in letter form, forever apart from its object and yet inseparable from it, and the agony of “a a a a a” is even visible on the page. In an interesting twist, in zooming in closer on the subject, Kelly has found new worlds of meaning and explores them gleefully and irreverently.

Yet, despite the playful tone, the installation itself reminds one of a library, complete with attendant librarian/custodian watching over the books, and you will need quite some time if you intend to fully read everything contained therein (I was there a full hour). But, just like time spent with a good book, you come out of it feeling as if the orthographic dust has been cleaned off your mental mirror, and the world reflects new colours upon it. Most of all, it is nice to have the written word be once again included in the realm of art, in a different sense than usual.

So, if you’re a little tired of all the white spaces outside, come visit the white spaces inside and see what new thoughts bloom.